Football looks to repeat last year’s success with new faces

After a perfect regular season and a trip to the NCAA Division III playoffs capping off last season, the Case Western Reserve University football team is looking to repeat their success this year. However, the class responsible for the impressive campaign has graduated.  

We focused on team building and leadership building,” Head Coach Greg Debeljak said.  “We have a young team trying to replace 26 graduating [fourth-year players], many of which were key players for us over the last [three] years. We have talent, but we need to mature quickly in order to win at a high level this year.”

These players definitely will have to mature quickly, as last year the CWRU offense averaged about 40 points and 437 yards per game while the defense suffocated opposing teams by allowing a mere 17.8 points per game.

Debeljak has confidence in his team.

“I feel we have strong leadership from our [fourth-year] captains (Steven Bachie, Cameron Brown, and Joey Spitali) as well as a pair of [fifth-year] players (Giuseppe Orsini and Luke DiFrancesco).  They are all [three to four] year starters and have played a great deal of games for us and know what it takes to win,” he said.

Along with the leadership of the captains, the lead signal caller for the Spartans will change as quarterback Rob Cuda has graduated.

Cuda, a dual-threat quarterback who threw for 7,883 yards and ran for 2,128 yards during his four years on the team, accounted for the deadliness of the Spartans offense in both the running and passing game. He also threw 77 touchdowns in his career with only 23 interceptions.

Replacing that level of production seems like a monumental task, but Debeljak feels good about his quarterback competition.

“[Third-year] Ryan Coolidge and [first-year] Drew Saxton have stood out in pre-season camp.  We feel we possess two [quarterbacks] that can help us score points offensively in different ways and will use their skills accordingly,” he said.

Returning for the Spartans is fourth-year receiver Justin Phan, who led the team in receiving yards and receptions. But other than Phan, there will be a host of new playmakers all over the field who will look to continue the success of the CWRU program.  

The team will open the season at home against the University of Rochester on Saturday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m.